Should you get an MBA?

It takes a monumental commitment, both financially and personally, but an MBA could be the fastest ticket to business proficiency.

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Marascio says that in his role as an officer at a small digital media and products company, "an MBA is pretty close to mandatory. On a day-to-day basis, I'm working with operations people and marketing people and creative people and technology people. The ability to bridge all of those silos and to be successful really takes someone who is much more strategically than technically focused. I find that since I went through the program, I spend much more time viewing things from alternate perspectives and much more holistically."

Pulling the Right Levers

James Dallas, senior vice president of quality and operations at Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc., agrees with Szygenda that growth is today's No. 1 business priority. Growing the business, he says, comes down to "knowing what the [business] levers are and which ones to pull to have the maximum impact." In short, it comes down to strategy.

Prior to earning an MBA from Emory University's Goizueta Business School in 1994, "I knew technologies and I knew how to execute on projects," Dallas says. He had graduated from college more than 10 years earlier, and in the intervening years he had supported a wide array of functions at his then-employer, Georgia-Pacific. "I started out supporting transportation and logistics, and I ended up becoming the general manager of that function. I supported our distribution and operations, and I ended up running the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of that business," he recalls.

But it was as an MBA student that Dallas says he learned "how to look at business models and the key questions to ask at an enterprise level. The MBA allowed me to get better at deciding which projects to do and when to do them based on the phase and evolution of the business model in the overall competitive environment."

Dallas says it was after earning his MBA that he started being asked to go on sales calls to some of Georgia-Pacific's largest customers "to talk about IT from a business standpoint, addressing technology from the point of view of the customer."

"I was also in strategy meetings to talk about overall business strategy, not just waiting for the IT part of the meeting to come up," he recalls. Now, if a business unit executive has a question about why his or her IT project isn't higher up on a list, Dallas simply traces how that particular project maps to the overall business strategy, and "if it isn't pulling on one of the specified business levers, it's not at the top."

The bottom line: "A CEO is looking for a CIO who will transform the business, not just implement technology. CIOs are being held accountable for their contributions to the bottom line, not just what they did to make things go faster," Dallas notes. "An MBA has allowed me to generate greater value."

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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